More than 130 mines have operated in the Greymouth area, many as co-operatives, since Thomas Brunner first discovered coal in the area in 1848. The first systematic workings began at Brunner in 1864 by the Ballarat mining syndicate. But the syndicate did not comply with the terms of its lease, which the Nelson Provincial Government cancelled in 1870. The provincial government developed the mine and built a railway to Greymouth, becoming in effect the first “State” coal mine in New Zealand.
In 1890 the Blackball Coal Company began production at Blackball Creek. The 1908 Blackball miner’s strike (over the Arbitration Court’s nine year refusal to lengthen their lunch break to half an hour) paved the way for the setting up of the Miners’ Federation which unified individual mining unions into a powerful and influential body. The original Blackball Mine closed in 1939 and a new mine opened the following year which was nationalised in 1941, remaining in production until 1964.
In 1896 an explosion at the Brunner Mine claimed the lives of 66 men. Operations continued at the mine under the Grey Valley Coal Company until it closed in 1906.
In 1901 the newly formed State Coal Mines acquired leases for mining at Rewanui. The Point Elizabeth State Coal Mine opened at Dunollie in 1902 and in 1905 development started on the Paparoa Mine, which was eventually bought by State Coal in 1947. State tried unsuccessfully to export the high quality coking coal to Japan for nickel and iron smelting, but production costs were too high to be commercially viable.
In 1906 the Blackball Coal Company opened the Roa Mine which was bought by State Coal in 1947 and closed in 1971. In 1913 the Liverpool State Coal Mine opened at Rewanui to replace the worked out Port Elizabeth Mine. More than 10 mines were worked by State Coal in the area, but activity ended with the closure of Liverpool No. 3 in 1984.
Dobson Mine was opened at Brunner by Grey Valley Collieries in 1919. In 1926 tragedy struck when an explosion killed nine men. The mine was closed in 1968 for economic reasons. James Mine at Rapahoe was mined by State Coal between 1922 and 1943. In 1938 Strongman State Coal Mine opened. In 1967 an explosion at Strongman took the lives of 19 miners. Hydro mining was introduced at Strongman in 1973 and in 1994 the original mine was replaced by Strongman No.2 mine. An opencast mine started operation near Strongman in 2001.
An underground mine was developed by Solid Energy at Mt Davy in 1997 but the mine was subsequently closed in 1998 after three miners were killed in two separate accidents, as it proved too hazardous to mine. In 2000 Grey Coal, a joint venture between Solid Energy and Todd Energy, opened an underground mine at Spring Creek, planned as a replacement for Strongman 2 which closed on August 15 2003. Development was temporarily halted in February 2001 but following Solid Energy’s purchase of Todd’s half share of the venture in 2002, mining recommenced at Spring Creek in September 2002.